Public Education: Sam Houston by Carlos Venegas

9400 Irvington Blvd.
Houston, Texas 77076

January 2004–It’s a warm 98-degree Sunday afternoon and we are at the dawn of summer entering the fall. Note that in Houston, 98 degrees is just another day in the spring, summer, fall, and yes winter. Tomorrow is the first day of school at Sam Houston H.S. The schoolyard is crystal clear and all seems peacefully sound and tranquil except for the young minds, of eager students. Who would have thought that one might actually be able to gain anything from attending such an “exceptional” school? Sure it may lack in a few of the more important things like preparing students for college or giving them any type of education, but hey you learn how to apply a lot different things you could not possibly learn in any other school.

Sam Houston H.S. was built in the late 1800’s, making it one of Texas’s oldest high schools. By the way, it also issues out Texas’s oldest high school newspaper, “THE AEGIS”. After a few years it was relocated to a new and more permanent location, on the corner of Tidwell Rd., and Irvington Blvd. Subsequently after the school’s repositioning, it endured many alterations, within and without. This formerly race-divided school is presently one of the most culturally varied high schools inside of Houston. Despite all of the changes during the early years, the students and staff’s tiger pride had yet to lose its glow.

Inversely, the standards of education began to diminish as the years progressed. The income of new generations coming in became lower and lower. Therefore the school, by necessity, had to lower its standards accordingly. As the income of the students going to the school began to decrease, the assets of low funded schooling became apparent. School fights and riots became a common problem in the mid to late sixties. From then on, it only got worse. During the early 90’s, gangs became a major problem. A lot of the news reports were of racial fights between major gangs such as the “Crips” and the “Bloods”. Going to school became a hassle; most did not want to deal it. These were the reports from the teachers. Around this time is when the Houston police became a major part of the school, major as in they had a central office within the school.

In recent years, the level of security has sky rocketed thanks to new discoveries in technology. Digital cameras in all areas were one thing and metal detectors were another. There is no area in the school that isn’t under surveillance and even the cameras are being watched by cameras. In fact, I believe there was a time when they even used drug-sniffing dogs to go through the lockers. Rules such as only mesh or clear backpacks are allowed in the school were in effect. Thousands of dollars were put into making this school safe. If it weren’t for civil law there would be plenty of video of violence in the restrooms too. Every day after school was the same story; there is a multitude of Houston’s finest just waiting to escort any troublemaker off of campus.

In more recent years, you would find an occasional gang fight but nothing too big. Not like before. Right now Sam Houston is one of the more secured schools in the state of Texas. The campus life there is one not to reckon with. One would think it was safe to enter. But why go in at all, right?

What about the education, you know, the welfare and nurturing of the students? The school gets a lot of money from the district, but where is it all at, where does it go? Well, after all the money spent on keeping the violence down, security, and paying the principals salary, there was no money left to buy proper school teaching equipment. The schools security staff received all of its riot gear but what about our books? Our second rate computers were only useful for one thing, visual aids to what a computer used to look like. Our hand-me-down textbooks from “yester-year” were very useful; they helped us understand the works of Sir Isaac Newton as they flew out the second and third story restroom windows and landed on various targets in the surrounding area. Other than that they worked great in holding up the windows for a few nice breezes to come in since our air conditioning did not work. Houston weather is very unforgiving. If it was a cool 97 degrees outside, it was at least 10 degrees hotter inside. I think the air conditioning was set backwards or something. You could actually break a sweat just walking from one class to another. The food wasn’t too hot either. We often had too many outdated meals and the breakfast tacos were too powdery. Just getting through a day would be a struggle for anybody not used to these conditions. Despite the various imperfections, the school held up pretty good. There was the whole asbestos phase but it was cleaned up pretty good, and then the mercury incident. The things people bring to school huh! The teaching staff was great though. It was one of the best because even without all of the great resources at their disposal; they were still able to maintain a good curriculum throughout the school year. It’s amazing what a teacher can do with a whole bunch of notes from their old college years, a piece of chalk, and a few scantrons. I guess innovation was one of the trades we all picked up.

Of course, our standardized test scores did not reflect these innovations too well. On paper, we weren’t the best scoring school in the state but we worked with what we had (those who wanted). According to the numbers put together by the Board of Education, we are right at about 73% passing the T.A.A.S. in 1997. I don’t believe that our numbers are really that low because usually when we were taking our tests, most of the students were not present and the ones that were, didn’t even take the test seriously or were unprepared physically. I bet the school could probably boost its numbers up by 10% if the students would just try. The knowledge is not hard to find but the effort to find it is the key, and that is something Sam Houston does not have. Every year the school starts with about 1000 freshmen; by senior year, only 400 will graduate, 20 of which don’t even get to walk on stage until December due to missing credits. Not many people get to graduate, a lot of the reasons the graduate rate is so low is the fact that we have a lot of different obstacles to overcome. Many of which we must face from day to day in contrast with school.

Throughout high school, there were many things I saw that troubled me a lot. A lot of my friends were forced to quit school. Between raising their families, working for a living, and dealing with constant violence, school just didn’t seem to be a priority in their eyes any more. Over at Sam, dropout is not a choice given to you. It is usually circumstantial and difficult reality you have to face.

As students, we really didn’t just all mix together. Most students had their own little groups or clicks that they belonged to. Some of the groups were active in the school functions like the N.H.S. while others just didn’t care like the Goths. These bevies ranged from the more popular Jocks to the less popular Outcasts or Loners. These little differences often posed problems but were still a part of the experience. Me myself, I would sit with just about anybody who invited me over. I would call myself a “roamer” because that’s just me and I was everywhere. For example, since I was on the baseball team, one day I would sit in the Baseball table. Then the very next day, since I was in the band too, I would sit with my band friends (who were very loud, but friendly). I had friends in just about every type of group there. It’s amazing how a lot of people from different groups thought similarly but just had a different way of expressing it. Knowledge can come in all forms. There was too much pride involved to bring the students together. I bet that is one of the reasons why the school never worked together to do better.

In general, I wouldn’t say that this is the worst school in the world and to not come here. In fact, to me this school was a better bargain than I thought. Of course all good things don’t come without sacrifice. For example, sure, you know I may not have the book-smarts of any of my college peers and posses the key to first-class social ties, or know a lot of important dates, but I do have something that I could never have learned in an “adequate” school program. What is this mystical treasure I attained, you say? Why it’s simple, it’s how to take care of myself without having to depend on someone else, or in other words, independence. Things like waking up, going to school, completing dead lines and doing homework are all actions a person has to do without being told. If you are waiting for someone to tell you what to do, you are going to wait your life away. “School starts at 8:30 and if you are not ready, you better start walking” as my mom used to put it. Then, “if you don’t want to go to school, you better start looking for a job because the bills are not going to pay for themselves; it’s my way or the highway!” Yes, it’s like that around here.

At my old high school, I learned one thing. If you did not do things for yourself, you were bound to fail like many of your preceding peers. Life is not a game, it’s for real and if you want to make something of yourself, you better get up and do it. There are no shortcuts, time outs, or replays, and you only get one chance, that means all of your actions will follow you until you die, no matter what. It was a fact that if you did not know, you would soon learn the hard way, through experience.

Being independent, although hard to believe, prepares you for life as an adult (as if you didn’t know). And a good harsh reality check will always leave you thinking about your actions. Like a lot of wise people say, “Knowledge is power” and like all good knowledge, the power of responsibility can only be attained through hands on experience. That, is something a book can never help you understand. Only in the north side!!

What is Sam Houston High School in the eyes of the H.I.S.D., what does it represent? The school board doesn’t see the troubles, trials, and tribulations Sam Houston students are going through; to them we are just numbers, statistics if you will. We want an education they want better numbers. To me, this little exchange should not be as difficult as it is. All of these issues are not necessarily blows at Sam Houston but they do represent the obstacles we as students face each day and unconsciously conquer each time we go again and again. The accomplishments of the students at S.H.H.S. are very massive as small as they may seem. What the average student does not know is that the numbers are stacked against them and each new day they tackle brings new hope to future students and their success. This is not your average high school; it is a hidden treasure full of potential yet to be utilized to its peak-capabilities. Sam Houston over all: not a bad school. It may need a few tweaks here and there, but still a good school nonetheless. It may lack the potential expected or the standards set forth, but it still does a lot more than you think it does. To me, it’s a work in progress but if I had the choice, I still wouldn’t trade it for the world.



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